In the land of the plastic paddies; Being English in America on Saint Patrick’s day.Posted: March 20, 2014
“Plastic Paddy” – a pejorative term for members of the Irish diaspora who appropriate (often stereotypical) Irish customs and identity. The term has also been applied to those with no ancestral connection to Ireland or who claim Irish identity or nationality.
I have always felt ambiguous about St Patrick’s day. Its base ingredient is probably the same sort of feeling I have about most countries my birthplace invaded, conquered and oppressed for a few centuries (Which if you’re not an English lefty is a mixture of collective gilt, abstract outrage and that feeling you have when you’re sure you’ve been rude but have no idea how) and the fact that I am just old enough to remember Ireland and the Irish not being nearly as in vogue with pop culture as it is now, and that my teenage years where laced with reports detailing Ireland and Ulster in particular as terrifying place were violence was just about to break out again as everyone was itching to fall off the not-killing-people wagon.
Living Philadelphia which – like most east coast cities between Baltimore and Boston – has a hell of a lot of Catholics, loves it some Papist holidays, I have spent the last two weekends (yeah that’s right St Paddy’s is as a two weekend event in the city of brotherly love) living in a city full off green clothed drunk people celebrating real or imagined Irish D.N.A. by drinking Bud light dyed green. It’s not that I have a problem with celebrating individual Heritages within the American experience, I actually really enjoy learning about the various fibers that make up the culture of the continent I’ve chosen to call home: St Patrick’s day however dons’t feel like that.
If you came from a part of the world entirely unfamiliar with Ireland or Irish culture and based your knowledge of the place solely on what Americans do on St Patrick’s day, you would first assume that Ireland had disappeared one day and now existed in the global consciousness as a sort of Celtic Atlantis, that the Irish either were, or at least interbreed with Leprechauns, who spent their days playing fiddles and tin whistles on the way to mass while the English burned the whole agrarian utopia down casting all the leprechaun people out into the Atlantic. Not that some elements of that aren’t true it’s just always presented as an uncomplicated narrative that firstly ended and ended a long time ago. My wife’s reference (American) was under the impression that any trouble in Ireland had been solved long before our parent’s generation was born, and in fact her reference point for the situation of Ireland was a Captain planet episode in which Captain planet solves the troubles with little effort.
My wife isn’t especially ignorant as far as Americans go; the general impression one gets of Ireland from America is that the Republic has been won just like the North American one was in 1787, and that it was done so – again like the U.S. – with no negative consequences or lasting problems that have continued to reverberate into the present. Instead, while she was growing up the ‘Leprechauns’ came to her daycare on St Patrick’s day and turned her milk green as well as having always celebrated March 17th with a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. Take this all for the unwitting royalist hate speech this might be but having grown up one country over from Ireland, and coming into contact with actual Irish people, this weird codification of Irish history, culture and not to mention the suffering of large numbers of people, so large groups of white people can pretend to be more interesting through drinking a lot doesn’t sit well with me.
I suppose the issue I also have is those who take St Patrick’s day seriously is the whole overt Catholicism of it. This Isn’t just me associating the Tricolor with papists, the Second Street Irish Society’s St Patrick’s day parade is fronted with a Vatican Flag alongside the Irish, American and Philadelphian ones. That sort of solid association of Irish republicanism and the Vatican has always been something I dislike as it stems from what protestants and royalists said about groups like the United Irishmen and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, pushing those secular organisations into the hands of probably on of the most reactionary chapters of the Catholic Church and allowing said chapter to run rampant when the Republic was finally declared. This is without even mentioning the fact that the linking of the Catholic Church and Irish Identity lead to some of the worst cases of Child rape being covered up for so long. The overt papist leanings of St Patrick’s day also kind of fails to acknowledge the non-Catholic Irish (Yes they are Irish, sit down) and people of Irish decent who live in America.
It is of course entirely acceptable to dismiss this post as an Ignorant English person judging Irish people for celebrating their heritage. As an English person celebrating a national day was always something other people did and I’m new to the idea of White people celebrating their ethnicity in a way that doesn’t involve trying to burn down a local Mosque. I’m not sure I can commit to a definate opinion on St Patrick’s day, I did by a case of Guinness over the weekend and I did wear my London Irish Jersey on Monday but the whole event is still going to give a squeamish feeling of missing the point somehow.